A diverse range of plant proteases are implicated in pathogen perception and in subsequent signalling and execution of disease resistance. We demonstrate, using protease inhibitors and virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS), that the plant papain cysteine protease cathepsin B is required for the disease resistance hypersensitive response (HR). VIGS of cathepsin B prevented programmed cell death (PCD) and compromised disease resistance induced by two distinct non-host bacterial pathogens. It also suppressed the HR triggered by transient co-expression of potato R3a and Phytophthora infestans Avr3a genes. However, VIGS of cathepsin B did not compromise HR following recognition of Cladosporium fulvum AVR4 by tomato Cf-4, indicating that plant PCD can be independent of cathepsin B. The non-host HR to Erwinia amylovora was accompanied by a transient increase in cathepsin B transcript level and enzymatic activity and induction of the HR marker gene Hsr203. VIGS of cathepsin B significantly reduced the induction of Hsr203 following E. amylovora challenge, further demonstrating a role for this protease in PCD. Whereas cathepsin B is often relocalized from the lysosome to the cytosol during animal PCD, plant cathepsin B is secreted into the apoplast, and is activated upon secretion in the absence of pathogen challenge.